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Release Date: February 5, 2016
Janus is the third solo album by veteran singer/songwriter Matt Kivel. The album was produced by Drag City’s Alasdair Roberts and engineered by Sam Smith at Green Door Studios in Glasgow. This is my first experience with Kivel’s music, so feel free to excuse any missing point of reference to his earlier works.
Janus opens with its moody namesake. It sort of creeps in and sets the stage for the whole album with gentle rhythms standing behind Kivel’s rich, often sad sounding, voice. Although the music is fairly sparse and repetitive, repeated listens really pull you into it, especially the mini-crescendo that comes about three-fourths of the way through. The soothing “No Return” is another folksy number that catches your attention. The acoustic guitar work on this song is one of my favorite parts of the album and the soft brass section is a perfect touch.
Kivel picks up the pace though with a handful of songs that flow more freely. “Violets” has a great guitar effect bit and a pace that makes it feel a bit New Wavey. “The Shining Path” plods along to a brighter beat that makes it stand out from the pack as Kivel sort of mumbles the lyrics along. This, on repeated listens, turned into one of my go-to tracks. Such a great song, I wish there were more like it. “Orpheus” is another of the more upbeat tunes and a highlight as well. It’s got a mesmerizing but subtle lead guitar that perfectly complements Kivel’s voice, which offers a little more ummph here than on the other tunes.
The long and the short of it is that Janus is a grower. It reminds me a great deal of the material on Sandy Dillon’s Nobody’s Sweetheart. There is a pretty deep well of musicianship and emotions expressed here that certainly didn’t catch me on my first listen. It’s the kind of album that the listener has to be in the right mindset for (unless dark, folksy, singer/songwriter is your exclusive listening habit, of course). Kivel covers a lot of ground here musically, even if it’s not immediately evident.
Reviewed by mark1340